The Admirable Crichton was fun. I walked out of the Burton Taylor Studio after an hour and a half of genuine entertainment, in a significantly better mood than I’d walked in, and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a light-hearted antidote to the stress of eighth week.
An interesting adaptation of J. M. Barry’s classic, the play challenges the idea of the “natural” order when a wealthy but somewhat helpless aristocrat gets stranded on a desert island with his two sons, goddaughter, servant, and trusty butler, Crichton. Over the course of the play we see the more practical Crichton take over and interact with the upper-class characters in a way that would have been impossible in rigid English society – ultimately challenging the ideas of status and hierarchy in the Victorian society in which Barry was writing. However, the question remains – will the group be rescued? Also, have their lives been irrevocably changed?
The play was unusual due to the gender reversal of the majority of its characters. Playing the stoic and practical Butler, Crichton, as a woman added to the general themes of social confusion, as not only class hierarchies, but also those of gender were challenged. This also worked well in the case of the two sons, Marcus and Gareth, whose naivety and stereotypically female concern with clothing helped to make an already funny piece even more amusing. There was potential for this radical shift to go wrong, but in fact it added both to the comedy and to the underlying social commentary of the play in an innovative way.
However, the real brilliance of the performance came from the stellar cast. Olivia Marshall as the boisterous and charismatic Ernesta confidently set the scene, and combined with Brian Chenard as the eccentric father, Loam, and Joe Woodman as somewhat daft but likeable son Gareth, the three made a convincingly and amusingly exaggerated aristocratic trio. Throughout the performance the three bounce of each other and the other actors, creating a light-hearted comic atmosphere that add to an already enjoyable story. A few of the jokes fell slightly flat – there was a real juxtaposition between modern references to Fifty Shades of Grey and the Victorian dress. There was also a somewhat overlong interlude at the start in which the cast interacted with the audience as if they were guests – this detracted somewhat from the natural flow of the performance. These are minor criticisms though for a production that got a lot of authentic laughter from the audience through a clever mixture of quips, ironies, and more physical acting. Although she only appeared at the end, Gemma Daubeney as Lady Brocklesby was another fun and convincingly acted character, fitting into the comedic trope of the snooty aristocratic lady, and working with a clearly comfortable and well-rehearsed cast to bring several laughs to the audience despite her relatively short time on stage.
The standout performances, however, were Josh Willetts as older son Marcus, and Liv Moul as Crichton. Willetts is hilarious; his mannerisms, line delivery, and physical presence all helped to create a wonderfully engaging character, that a audience can’t help but warm to. Moul also gave a perfect blend of vocal and physical acting – her downturned gaze gradually becoming more direct as she gains power and confidence and her stoic and practical manner of walking giving a pleasingly consistent presentation of a difficult and constantly evolving character. It took skill to manipulate the audience first into amusement at how uncomfortable Crichton was in interacting on any equal level with the aristocratic guests, and then to horror as she slowly takes control of the group on the island, even forcing Ernesta to wear the “cone of shame” when she makes too flowery speeches (an adaptation from the significantly more sinister method of putting the original Ernest’s head in a bucket of water). However, the most impressive part is that by the end of the play, Moul depicts Crichton’s love for Marcus with such vulnerability that the audience feels genuine pity and sorrow when a ship is sighted, and she does not get her happy ending. To portray so many different sides to a character in such a short space of time takes considerable skill, and Moul proved that the gender reversal of the key character works very well.
The production could perhaps have benefitted with slightly more cohesion in its themes. Both Abbey Feraro’s Tweeny and Caroline Kennedy’s Brocklesby differed from the previously mentioned characters in tone. Kennedy in particular acted a very sincere and convincing portrayal of the slightly naive but likeable daughter of Lady Brocklesby with skill, but in much more of a true-to-life way than the deliberately exaggerated comedy of the previously mentioned quartet. Although the actors were all good in different ways, working towards a more unified characterisation could have helped to iron out a few of the previously mentioned incohesive elements.
Overall, The Admirable Crichton was a good production – I enjoyed seeing it, and it made me laugh. Special mention must be given to the sound and lighting which was probably the best that I’d seen in a student production. Clear effort and time had gone into the performance, and it paid off. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a bit of light comedy, and an enjoyable and amusing evening.